Almost 70 years ago, President Dwight Eisenhower pushed bipartisan legislation that created the interstate highway system. Earlier leaders made universal access to education, starting with kindergarten and running through high school, standard throughout the United States. The Republican Party of today would have one word for these policies: socialism.
Social and economic progress in the United States has always depended on a smart mix of public policies and private incentives. After World War II, the enormous growth surge that largely created the middle class depended on the federal highway system that allowed for modern suburbs and the speedy transportation of goods around the country.
The growth surge also depended on a well-educated workforce that was advanced by universal access to high school, and the huge growth in college education that resulted from the G.I. Bill of Rights and low-cost government student loans.
President Joe Biden’s program is about taking the next big steps. Its plans for spending on physical infrastructure will provide the same sort of foundation for growth that the interstate highway system did more than 60 years ago.
We know that we have to shift to a clean energy economy. Pretending global warming does not exist will not make it go away. Biden’s plan will jump-start the switch to electric-powered cars, buses and trucks. It will also rejuvenate mass transit. And, it will hasten the transition of our power system from fossil fuels to solar and wind energy.
It will also ensure that everyone has access to broadband internet, just as we moved toward universal telephone service more than 80 years ago. This will prevent the situation we saw in the pandemic where large numbers of people in rural areas and inner cities were largely left out as schools and other activities moved to the web.
The plan also extends the standard for education in both directions. It provides for free community college and free prekindergarten. Schooling that began in kindergarten and ended with high school graduation might have been great in 1930, it is not fine for 2030.
Biden also wants to provide assistance for families that are caring for young children, aged parents or disabled relatives. Sixty years ago, most women did not work outside the home and instead took full responsibility for their family’s caregiving.
Now, most women do work outside the home. If we want women to do a standard job, and not constantly be pulled away by caregiving responsibilities, they need the same sort of support for caregiving that families enjoy in other countries.
It is not an accident that Germany, France and many other countries have now surpassed us in women’s employment. They provide the support women need to be able to work.